Track 2 of Sleater-Kinney's 2000 album, All Hands On The Bad One has odd echoes of Dar Williams' The Green World. In particular, relentless cries of "What do you love?" and "What would you kill?" hearken back to Dar's "What do you love more than love?" and "On a bad day, who would you kill?" (the latter lyric is from The Green World's opening track, "Playing to the Firmament"). Still, Sleater-Kinney's punk aesthetic offers a stark contrast to the other album's folksy sensibilities. Whereas The Green World is about finding yourself---as an artist and a human soul---in a world where anything can happen, All Hands on the Bad One is a hard-rocking anthem of female independence of both the feminist and fuck-major-record-labels variety. Still, both exhort their listeners to find themselves, in a very real sense: to draw clear lines of self-definition, reject what is insignificant or harmful, and defend those boundaries by any means necessary. "Ironclad" is no exception.


You went down in the very first round
Sitting ringside in a tiny town
Knock out, knock out, first round, first round!

Ooh, when you call, you will call the loudest
Ooh, when you fall, you will fall the hardest

This could be our very last stand
Monitor and Merrimac
Too bad, too bad, you're ironclad, ironclad!

Ooh, when you call, you will call the loudest
Ahh, when you fall, you will fall the hardest

Who do you love? Who do you love? Who do you love?
What would you kill, what would you kill? What would you kill?
To make a heart stand still, heart stand still, heart stand still
What would you pay, what would you pay, what would you pay?
To make the hate go away, hate go away, hate go away?

Ooh, when you call, you will call the loudest
Ooh, when you fall, you will fall the hardest

Why battle-cry dry your eyes no one can hear you
Once iron made heart or spade no one can steal you

—written and performed by Sleater-Kinney

Throughout parts of the Civil War and nearly all of the preceding American wars, wooden ships dominated the naval fronts. In the early Civil War, such wooden steam frigates played the main role in blockading Southern ports. Without a safe way to disable the Union blockade, the Confederates found themselves short on needed supplies.

Thus the notion for the first Ironclad ship emerged. The Confederate plan was to convert a captured Union ship, the U.S.S. Merrimack, into a stronger ship by covering its exterior with metal plates. The advantages of this ship, aptly referred to as an ironclad, included a resistance to fire and an obvious ability to ram wooden ships with smaller risk to itself. However the Merrimack, now dubbed the C.S.S. Virginia, was too bulky and too slow to deal with a more agile ship with the same iron coating- which is precisely what the Union set out to build after spies reported the first processes for the conversion of the Merrimack.

John Ericsson, a Union supporter although he was hardly on polite terms with the highest ranking Union officers, had formed a radical plan for a competing ironclad ship. Drawing more comparisons with a "cheesebox on a raft" than with an actual ship, the design Ericsson proffered was so strange looking that the committee examining the plan did not believe it could ever float. The planned ship was smaller than the C.S.S. Virginia, and had only two rotating guns to the Virginia’s ten stationary ones.

Regardless, Ericsson’s design was accepted- though reluctantly- by the Union navy. They were put in to affect to produce the U.S.S. Monitor. This new ironclad was more agile and mobile than the Virginia, able to reach speeds of eight knots to the Virginia’s maximum speeds of five knots.

Entirely oblivious to the Union’s construction of the U.S.S. Monitor, the Confederates had put the final touches on their own C.S.S. Virginia. On March 8, 1862, after months of anticipation, the Virginia was launched from its Norfolk port. The Confederate watchers cheered vigorously, confident that they now had the ultimate naval weapon with which to disarm the wooden Union fleet and destroy the blockades.

Unbeknownst to the spirited Confederates, however, the Union had already launched their own ironclad on January 30, 1862. This was a full two weeks before the Virginia had set out from its port.

When the Virginia launched, everyone watching assumed it was merely for a test run. Yet this test would prove to be most strenuous for the ship’s weapons, for not long after its launch the Virginia encountered two heavily armed wooden frigates. These Union ships, the U.S.S. Cumberland and the U.S.S. Congress, pelted the Virginia with shells, but the assault seemed to have no affect on the still approaching ironclad. Both of the attackers were destroyed, and the three Union ships hurrying to the rescue would have met similar destruction had not their captains given orders to turn and flee.

The triumphant Virginia was thought of as the new superweapon of the south. Yet the Union hoped they had a powerful counter weapon, able to sink the terrifying Virginia, in the Monitor. The Monitor was set on its journey to engage the Virginia at Hampton Roads, where the Virginia waited.

On March 9, 1862, the two ironclads met in battle. Their fighting lasted for four hours. It seemed that the Virginia would have an easy victory, having proven its amazing firepower in previous engagements. Yet the Monitor was an agile ship, and was able to avoid the Virginia’s blasts while landing none of its own on the Virginia. Neither one seemed to be able to pull an advantage in the battle, as cannonballs simply bounced off the iron coatings of both ships and the shells seemed to have little efffect. Thus the battle ended in a draw- although predictably each side claimed that the victory had been theirs.

Perhaps the true victor of this battle was the technology behind the new ironclad ships. Following the Civil War, wooden war ships were finished. They were too easily defeated by their ironclad cousins. In wars to follow, the model for the ironclads would be perfected, and put into widespread use.

This write up also appears at as part of a study on the Civil War that I maintain.
The "First" Ironclad
Unbeknownst to many, the well renowned stand off between the Monitor and the Merrimack was by no means the first instance of ironclad use in maritime combat. The French navy's development and use of ironclad warships during the Crimean War predated the Civil War ironclads by almost a decade. The first recorded use of ironclads in actual combat in the West came in 1855, when the French navy deployed a fleet of ships accompanied by several armor plated boats fitted with cannons to lay waste to the Russian stronghold at Kinburn on the coast of the Black Sea. Granted, these ironclads (considered "floating batteries" rather than actual ships) were rather primitive in design, the sheer amount of damage they could sustain was unheard of at the time and would prove to change the face of naval warfare the world over. The French navy further improved on their invention to develop the formidable steam powered ironclad La Gloire in 1859, which is regarded as the first "actual" ironclad... At least in Western history.

Ironclads in the Far East
Of course, why stop there? If you go back even further in history, you'll find that the first ironclad warships were actually used in East Asia circa the late 16th century, in both Korea and feudal Japan to be specific (disclaimer: while these ships were the first to use iron as protection against light artillery and to prevent boarding attacks, it is important to note that these ships were not completely clad in iron, so to speak). As to which country the distinction goes to for inventing the world's first armored ship, it is hard to say since this is often the subject of much heated debate.

Nobunaga's "Iron" Ship(s)
The year was 1576: feudal lord Oda Nobunaga, who had just dispatched of the remnants of the once powerful Takeda army, was only a few steps away from realizing his megalomaniacal vision of unifying/dominating the Japanese archipelago. The few threats remaining included the steadfast forces of the Mori family and Nobunaga's arch nemesis, the Buddhist Honganji clan. In order to deplete the hostile forces at the Ishiyama Honganji temple in Osaka, Nobunaga went to great lengths to install a naval blockade to prevent their allies from delivering supplies and provisions. The Mori faction, sensing (correctly) that they would probably be next, sent a fleet of more than 600 ships down the Kizu river to destroy the blockade. Nobunaga's blockade, while being overseen by naval genius and former pirate Kuki Yoshitaka, was heavily outnumbered and suffered a humiliating defeat due in most part to a relentless barrage of exploding arrows. Taking this lesson to heart, Nobunaga commissioned Kuki "to build a ship that won't burn this time" (or something to that effect). Over the next two years, Kuki would produce a total of six "ironclad" ships, including the famous "ironclad" behemoth, the Ki-Shuku Maru which was over 150 feet from stem to stern (massive for that time period), three stories high, outfitted with three "cannons", multiple portholes for muskets and other missile weapons, and powered by 100 or so laborers (the words "ironclad" and "cannons" have been placed in quotes for reasons which I'll address later). Kuki and the Moris (plural) would meet again on the Kizu river in November of the same year, only this time the Moris' exploding arrow tactic was rendered useless, and Kuki managed to recapture control of the Osaka harbor. Two years later, cut off from their supply lines, Honganji temple was eventually overrun by Nobunaga's forces in dramatic fashion. Kuki was handsomely rewarded for his heroics, as well as his ingenuity, and Nobunaga dubbed the Ki-Shuku Maru, the "Nippon-Maru" as in, the number one warship in all of Nippon. This story would later be recounted many times, and the legend of Nobunaga's "Tetsu-Bune" or "Iron Ships" became a testament to Nobunaga's "unparalleled" greatness.

Yi Sung-Shin's Turtle Ships
Fast forward more than a decade: Nobunaga has succumbed at the Honnoji incident, Toyotomi Hideyoshi has taken the reigns and is well on his way towards unifying Japan, and is now looking outwards for new conquests. What followed were Hideyoshi's two-part Korean "expeditions", carried out in 1592 and 1597, in which the Nippon-Maru and Kuki would act as flagship, and Admiral (respectively of course). Initial naval encounters would lean in the Japanese forces' favor, that is until Korean Admiral Yi Sung-Shin designed the ironclad Ko-Buk-Son warship otherwise known as the "turtle ship". The "turtle ships", called thusly because of their turtle like appearance (hmm... Go figure), were outfitted with an impenetrable spiked iron roof which rendered them practically immune to missile and melee attacks. These doozies also featured a nifty battering ram in the shape of a dragon as the bow of the ship, which proved effective in subduing the Japanese ships which were not accustomed to ramming as a form of nautical attack. Details as to the specific encounters between the two fleets are highly subjective due to the degree of nationalistic pride on both sides and bad blood between both nations, as such, it is often hard to determine exactly how these battles transpired. At any rate, the standoff between two of the greatest naval leaders in East Asian history, would ultimately result in an overall naval victory for Yi who is revered to this day as a savior in his homeland, and highly regarded in naval military circles, sometimes referred to as the "Nelson of the Far East". All of this came at a cost however, as Yi was made a martyr in the final battle of the Japanese-Korean conflict.

OK... So what the heck were you hinting at so vaguely in the paragraphs above?
The issue of which country developed the first ironclad warship is to date a hotly contested matter. Many Japanese historians still contend that the "Tetsu Bune" were in fact the first ironclad warships in the world, and if you take the above facts at face value that is what one would conclude. Of course, this leaves one glaring question unanswered, as in:

What happened to Nobunaga's invincible "Iron Ships" during the Japanese invasion of Korea? Why did they prove so ineffective?

Before answering this question, one must first consider the nature of nautical combat in late 16th century Asia. Fact: the technology to build "cannons" in the sense of the kind we are accustomed to in the West did not exist at the time. Most of the missile weapons being used, be it muskets or arrows charged with explosives (like those used in the Kizu river battle) were only effective at a relatively close range and were not powerful enough to actually sink a ship. As such, the main objective in a naval battle was to demoralize and incapacitate the members of the opposing crew, to the point where the ship could be forcefully boarded. Since the armor was used only to deflect musket balls, and protect the ship and crew from explosive arrows, a rather thin sheet of metal would be sufficient to this end. As mentioned before, ramming was not employed as a method of attack, so thickness of armor was not an issue either. While some accounts paint Nobunaga's ships as completely clad in iron, most of them are based on nothing more than second-hand information, or records coming from Nobunaga's own faction (which are highly partial to say the least). One of the few objective accounts comes from one Padre Gnecchi Organtino a Jesuit missionary who claimed that Nobunaga's ships were "massive in size, and likened to those designed in Portugal". However, one should note that nothing is said in regards to any armor plating, which should have been the first thing he pointed out, as the use of iron plated ships was not even being considered in the West at the time. The most likely explanation is that ships like the Nippon-Maru were only moderately outfitted with armor, and when faced with the "Turtle Ships" which were specifically designed for aggressive ramming, their thin armor plating was probably a non factor. Also of note is the fact that the hull of the Korean ships were made of pine, which was considerably more studier than the cedar used for their Japanese counterparts. Finally, most of the Korean campaigns were carried out in narrow, torrential bodies of water, which was a detriment to big, cumbersome ships like the Nippon-Maru.

For all of you strategy game aficionados out there, Kuki Yoshitaka and his ironclads are included in the fourth installment of the Nobunaga's Ambition series (Busho-Huun-Roku) onward. If you have trouble finding him, his home fief is Ise-Shima. Other naval geniuses in feudal Japan include Takigawa Kazumasu (Oda) and Kohayakawa Takakage (Mori). Collect them all!

Although neither Yi or Kuki are represented (which is a shame), I also recommend Broderbund's excellent, The Ancient Art of War at Sea.

M. Suzuki, Searching for the Truth of the Feudal Wars, Kodansha, 1998.

I"ron*clad` (?), a.


Clad in iron; protected or covered with iron, as a vessel for naval warfare.


Rigorous; severe; exacting; as, an ironclad oath or pledge.



© Webster 1913.

I"ron*clad`, n.

A naval vessel having the parts above water covered and protected by iron or steel usually in large plates closely joined and made sufficiently thick and strong to resist heavy shot.


© Webster 1913.

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